Once you've made the decision to start learning guitar, the first step will be to actually get one. At first sight, guitars have mysterious specifications and technical jargon that you won't be able to comprehend, so it can be a daunting process for a beginner who doesn't have a clue about anything guitar related.
To make things a bit simpler for you, here are some tips on buying the best first guitar.
1. What type of guitar is right for you?
There is a never ending debate on whether you should get an acoustic or an electric guitar as your first guitar. In short, there are 2 main categories of guitars you can choose from:
Acoustic guitars only use acoustic means to transfer the vibrational energy of their strings to produce a sound. What happens is that the string's vibration is passed on into the body of the guitar, the space there amplifies the resulting sound, which is let out through the soundhole.
You can subcategorize acoustic guitars further:
- Nylon-stringed classical guitars
- Steel-stringed acoustic guitars
These 2 sub-types create a totally different tone, and you play them a bit differently as well.
Electric guitars use a pickup to convert the vibration of their strings into electrical impulses. This signal is sent to an amplifier, where the strength of the signal is amplified, and then sent to the loudspeaker.
There are literally thousands of different acoustic and electric guitars, so choosing one can be a bit difficult. We'll get into the specifics of how to choose your first beginner guitar further down in the article.
Is an acoustic or electric better for beginners?
Go ahead and read this article, where you'll find out the pros and cons of both types of guitars. Electric guitars are easier to play because of their lighter strings, but if you initially learn on an acoustic, you'll be a better guitar player.
If you are still uncertain, ask yourself, "What kind of music do I like?". Get the type of guitar that fits your musical taste, you can't go wrong with that.
2. How much to spend on your first guitar?
You can spend all the money in the world on a guitar. Trust me. Been there, done that 🙂
For your first guitar though, a reasonable amount to pay is between $200-$500.
The reason you don't want to buy a guitar cheaper than this range is that guitars under $150-200 are mostly garbage. Sorry to be blunt, but that's the truth. They are manufactured in Asian sweatshops, and as such, are basically low-quality firewood at best.
You could spend more than the range I recommended above if you have the budget. The more you spend, the better your guitar will be, as more expensive guitars have a better tone, are easier to play, and have more design features that make them more beautiful (pearl inlays and around the soundhole, nicer binding, headstock, etc.)
But what if you don't like playing? Unfortunately, lots of people quit learning guitar after a few months, and I'm sincerely hoping you won't be one of them. But know that you can sell your guitar if you want at any time. You will not be able to sell it at the new price of course, but used-like-new guitars go for 85-90% of new guitars, so your loss won't be that large.
So if you have the cash, there are worse ways to spend your money.
3. Where to buy it?
You might be tempted to buy your new guitar online since prices will be lower. The problem is that if you buy it online, you won't have anyone helping you, you can't test the guitar, and you can't discuss your needs with an expert.
I highly suggest you buy your first guitar at a local dealer, preferably a respected guitar shop. Some of you might say,
Hey, I'll go to the guitar shop, talk with the salesman, test all the guitars, and I'll just buy it online in the end.
Well, you could do that, but come on... Respect the knowledge and work they put into their business, and spend that extra $30 at the shop.
In all my years playing guitar (20+), I've never bought a new guitar online. It's much more fun and a better experience to buy it at the store. Other than that, you can meet other guitar players at stores, and maybe set up a joint practice session or trade tips.
4. Buying a used guitar as a first guitar
I don't recommend this to beginners, since buying a used guitar will be a gamble. Beginners don't know what to check on used guitars. It takes lots of experience and knowledge to be able to tell whether a used guitar is good or not.
Unless you have a knowledgeable friend who can help you out on this front, stay away from used guitars at first.
5. Accessories you will need, other than the guitar
Here is a list of guitar accessories beginners will need. You don't need everything on that list, the most important things are:
- Electric tuner
- Guitar stand
- Gig bag (if you plan on taking private lessons and need to haul your guitar around)
If you end up buying a beginner guitar package, that will already include most of the things on the shopping list. I don't really recommend buying all-in-one guitar sets, they are usually low quality and a waste of money. Think about it. They sell for $100-$200, you can't possibly include everything for that price, and have it be of decent quality.
It's better, and more fun to choose the things you need yourself. It will cost a bit more, but it's worth it.
6. Knowing all the above, how do you pick the actual guitar?
Ok, so this is where the fun begins. You walk into a guitar shop, take a deep breath, and take in that new guitar smell. It's like drugs for guitarists.
Find yourself a sales clerk, and tell him/her why you're there. Then head on over to the acoustic or electric guitar section, and start looking around. If any guitar catches your eye, ask the salesman to take it down for you. It is very important to choose a guitar which is aesthetically pleasing for you, so one which you find beautiful. The more you fall in love with the guitar, the more you'll be enticed to play it at home.
Ask the store salesman to:
- Make sure it's in tune,
- Tell you a bit about the guitar,
- Play the guitar a bit.
Sit down, grab the guitar, put it into the playing position, and see how it feels. Obviously, you won't be able to play it, you just want to see how holding it feels. If the body of the guitar is too big or too small, it will feel awkward.
You'll know you're on the right track if you get goosebumps, I always do with a new guitar that I'm going to buy 🙂
Now put the guitar back, grab your salesman, and make him show you a few more beginner guitars, repeating the above. Don't be afraid to spend a lot of time at the store, there's no rush.
7. Get your new guitar set up at the store
Once you've selected your new baby, you'll want to ask the salesman to get it set up for you. Most guitar stores have a luthier or someone who does guitar setups, which will cost $25-50 extra.
Why do you need to set up a new guitar? Good question!
When a lower-end guitar ships from the factory, it is not set up optimally. The fret edges might be sharp, the action too high, the intonation off, etc.
When you have your guitar set up, you're getting all of these things checked and fixed, plus new strings, so your guitar will play better. This is really important not just for beginners, but for players of all levels.
High-end guitars don't need a setup, as they are individually inspected and set up during manufacturing.
8. Learning to play your guitar
So you have your new beauty, it's set up correctly, and sitting on the stand in your room. Now what?
1. Personal lessons
The best, and most expensive way to learn guitar. A lesson typically costs $50, so having 2 lessons per week will set you back $5200 per year.
2. Teach yourself guitar
The internet is flooded with guitar lessons. Find a course that you stick with, don't just jump around random YouTube videos, that will inhibit the learning process, since they lack structure.
I have a detailed free guide for beginner guitarists, that will take you from zero to hero in a structured manner using my awesome video guitar tutorials. I can also recommend GuitarTricks or JamPlay, they are both quality websites. They cost around $120 per year, well worth your money for the amount and quality of lessons you get.